Promoting Julio Urias, others, to pitch out of bullpen could be beneficial

I’ve been staunchly against this, but it it’s looking more and more possible with each passing bullpen meltdown.

There is every chance Julio Urias is promoted in September to pitch out of the Dodgers’ bullpen. It’s the headline-making move and it might be the right move. I’m still a little on the fence about it, though. Urias’ value to this organization long-term is in the starting rotation, but the need for the immediate future is out of the bullpen.

Let’s look at Urias’ season to date. He began with Double-A Tulsa and expected to top at least 100 innings in his third full professional season. He got off to a good start and then elected for cosmetic eye surgery in May. That stopped the development at that point. I wrote about it a little more than a month ago.

“Word was last fall the Dodgers were going to ‘turn him loose,’ in 2015. That hasn’t happened, and won’t because there just isn’t enough time remaining.

All this doesn’t even take into consideration the start-stop-start Urias has done this season. He was invited to MLB spring training, pitched a couple innings, pitched on the back fields, began the season as Tulsa’s No. 2 starter and averaged 5.4 innings per start in his first six games. It looked like he was well on his way to being turned loose. Now, he has to basically restart his body and process.

The 2015 season for Urias is almost a throw-away season based on everything that has happened to this point. I’d be shocked if he is in the majors this season and I’d be shocked if he’s in the starting rotation full-time before 2017. But he is a phenom. I know Dodger management doesn’t want to risk too much with him, but it’s time to take the kid gloves off and actually turn him loose.”

Since his return from the disabled list, Urias is averaging 5.3 innings per start. He averaged 80.3 pitches per start before surgery and is at 77 post-surgery.

Full disclosure: I’m leaving out the two starts he made with the Arizona League Dodgers and one with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes when it comes to pitch count.

He sits at 68 1/3 innings at Double-A (7 2/3 in the AZL and Cal League combined) through 13 starts. I was really hoping to see him get to 100-plus innings in his age-18 season (as ridiculous as that may sound), but the eye surgery put an end to that.

Urias wouldn’t come up and pitch in the rotation anyway, but is bringing him up in September going to do more harm than good (for him and the team)? That’s the big question.

With the Dodgers’ bullpen under-performing, something has to be done. There aren’t a ton of good options on the trade market. Fernando Rodney and former OKC Dodger David Aardsma cleared waivers and were both designated for assignment this week. They weren’t even viewed as good enough to trade for in August, so I’m not sure how good they’d be in the Dodger bullpen.

The Dodgers just demoted Yimi Garcia to Triple-A. That’s not great, considering there’s a case to be made he’s the team’s second-best reliever. He’ll be back on Tuesday, but it’s still seven games without Garcia around (provided there are no injuries before then). Luckily, Juan Nicasio came back in Garcia’s place, so it isn’t all bad. But this just means the Dodgers might have to turn to Jim Johnson in a crucial situation.

From the left side, the Dodgers could use a boost. Yes, J.P. Howell has been pretty good this season, but as Mike wrote yesterday, he has been lucky and a collapse could be imminent. Paco Rodriguez went to Atlanta and Luis Avilan actually has reverse platoon splits. Adam Liberatore is probably the best pure lefty-on-lefty guy the Dodgers have in the bullpen, but he won’t be back until Tuesday as well.

So, how does Urias stack up against lefties? Really well, actually.

  • 2013: .214/.241/.268 in 58 plate appearances
  • 2014: .175/.283/.247 in 113 plate appearances
  • 2015: .132/.154/.158 in 78 plate appearances

With a plus-fastball and plus-breaking pitches, this isn’t terribly surprising (he also has a plus-changeup to throw to right-handers). The only thing I really worry about with Urias getting the call is his command. It’s good, but it’s also inconsistent at times. If he’s throwing out of the bullpen, there’s a little less margin for error (in theory), but he Urias is also lauded for his maturity on the mound.

I’m coming around on the idea of him out of the bullpen. If he is recalled, he would need to be added to the 40-man roster. And he wouldn’t be up until later in September, which Don Mattingly confirmed on Tuesday.

There are drawbacks other than development to promoting Urias. His arbitraiton clock starts if he’s promoted as he’ll accrue MLB service time. It probably won’t be enough to mean a whole lot, but seeing as he’s not going to be a full-time rotation option for 2016 (or maybe even 2017), it’s something for the front office to consider. The benefit likely outweighs the gain.

If he is promoted, he probably won’t pitch a lot or enough to earn a spot on the postseason roster. Remember, 2002 Francisco Rodriguez is the extreme exception, not the rule. More likely to pitch his way onto the postseason roster would be the likes of Jharel Cotton or Jose De Leon (the former more than the latter).

Cotton, 23, was dominant at times in Double-A (2.30 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 28.6 K%, 8.5 BB%) and was promoted to Triple-A last week to pitch specifically out of the bullpen.

He was interviewed by the Virgin Islands Daily News and it seems he could be a realistic option in September.

“Cotton, 23, was told on Friday night about the promotion from Double-A Tulsa, and told his role change could yield huge dividends.

‘They told me I could go help out with Triple-A, and see how it goes,’ Cotton said. ‘If I do really well here, I have a chance to help out with the big-league club, so it’s nice to have a chance.'”

Eric Stephen got similar intel from Cotton.

“… Double-A Tulsa manager Razor Shines told the right-hander he was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City. If Cotton keeps up his breakout season, it might not be the last such meeting he has in 2015.

‘He told me I’m going to Triple-A to relieve out of the pen, and hopefully the Dodgers like what they see,’ Cotton said. ‘It’s great to know that.'”

In his first Triple-A appearance, Cotton impressed by throwing two innings and recording all his outs via the strikeout. For good measure, he threw in a 2-run triple.

With a low-90s fastball that touches the 95 MPH and a plus-changeup, he could very well find himself pitching in Los Angeles in September. His breaking ball needs to be more consistent, but he actually fares better against righties in 2015 (.196/.255/.344) than lefties (.239/.311/.358), which is a tad surprising because of the lack of a consistent breaker. It just goes to show he has matured on the mound and is establishing himself as one of the better pitching prospects in the system.

As for De Leon, he hasn’t been as good at Double-A as some may have expected, but he’s still posting a respectable 3.60 FIP and a ridiculous 33.8 strikeout percentage. His command needs a little work, but his deception gives his pitches a little boost. His breaking pitch is better than Cotton’s, but Cotton’s changeup is better. With their fastballs being comparable, they are pretty similar pitchers in terms of repertoire.

I doubt all three will be promoted, seeing as none of them are on the 40-man roster and the Dodgers have a lot of relievers ahead of them on the depth chart. But if the bullpen continues to be a point of contention, an infusion of youth from one, two or three of these guys could be in order.

The Dodgers can wait for guys to start pitching to their potential (Chris Hatcher, Jim Johnson, Luis Avilan), lean heavily on guys who have been good this season (Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, Howell) or look to the youngsters for a boost. It’ll be interesting to see what management deems appropriate for the situation. One thing’s for sure: Mike Bolsinger will be back on Tuesday, which could be the first boost the Dodgers get in September.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.